Maybe it’s because I think “The Twilight Zone” is one of the best television shows of all time, but I’m a sucker for a horror anthology series. There’s something fun about a talented group of people getting together to tell different stories, which is the modus operandi for Aaron Martin’s Canadian horror hit “Slasher,” returning to Shudder today, April 7th, with its fifth series, titled “Ripper.” Sort of a Canadian “American Horror Story,” Martin’s clever series uses some of the same performers every now and then but mostly recasts each season with new players. The fourth one, the rocking “Flesh & Blood,” even included a supporting role for the legendary David Cronenberg. The big-name this season isn’t quite that cool, but it does allow for a talented comedy actor to play against type. Overall, the two episodes of this sent for press aren’t quite as much fun as “Flesh & Blood,” and they sometimes reminded me of projects that do either the era (“The Knick”) or the Ripper story (From Hell, the book not the movie) better than this. However, I still admire the ambition and tone of “Slasher: Ripper.” I’ll be there for the gory ride.
Gabriel Darku (who, like a lot of this year's players, was in the third series, “Solstice”) plays Detective Kenneth Rijkers, a new face in Toronto investigating the brutal murder that opens the season. A shrouded figure who becomes known as The Widow is brutally mutilating people in the Toronto streets, and the authorities start to think that it may be connected to a case from over a decade ago that ended with an injustice. As The Widow gets closer and closer to Toronto’s elite, she sends the powerful Basil Garvey (Eric McCormack of “Will & Grace”) into a panic, leading to some brutal, rash decisions. Over two episodes, “Ripper” sometimes gets too far away from its horror plotline, trying to capture life in the era in a way that almost feels more like a dramatic period piece, but the writers find a way always to bring it back to the core of the show. It’s in the word “Slasher.”
On the one hand, I admire “Slasher” for trying to get deeper into class and privilege in ways it didn't necessarily have to, and I like how the show plays with magic and the supernatural with a performer who saws a woman in half in the premiere and holds a séance in the second episode. This is a time when the line between traditional, upper-crust decorum and something more dangerous was starting to blur when socialites might be drawn to someone who claims an ability to talk to the other side. “Slasher” is at its best when the pacing is quick, and these two episodes feel longer than they should. My hope is that they’re setting up for chaos to come.
It's also worth noting that the ambition of “Ripper” sometimes butts up against the limits of this Canadian production. To be blunt, the show often looks like it’s on a set and not taking place in 19th-century Canada. The interiors look reasonably well-designed, but the streets look distinctly backlot. And I can’t believe I’m saying this in the era of “Ozark Lighting,” but this one is too bright. A show called "Ripper" should be darker, dirtier, and more dangerous.
And yet it’s still fun. McCormack is a demented surprise as he turns into a malevolent character in unexpected ways, and there are characters on the fringe here that I suspect will get more interesting as the plot unfolds. “Slasher” is a big enough hit that the writers are having fun with the entire history of horror ideas. With all the possible concepts for a fifth season out there, that they went with a Ripper-inspired period piece is an admirable, ambitious move. Ryan Murphy may want to take some notes.
Two episodes were screened for review. "Slasher: Ripper" is now playing on Shudder.